LIBERTY AND SECURITY
September 11th,2001 proved a pivotal day in American history. The bombings of theWorld Trade Centers in New York transformed the entire governmentalstructure and function. National security became an issue of primeimportance. In fact, successive governments have ridden the wave ofnational security on their way to power. Up until then, manyterrorist attacks had been carried out in different areas worldwide.Nevertheless, the attack in New York was unprecedented in scope andseverity. The implications on government policy were swift anddevastating. In the immediate aftermath of the deadly attack, rushedlegislative decisions were implemented. Such measures were motivatedby not only a sense of apparent panic, but also a desire to manifesta show of strength. The American government felt obliged to act so asto protect its borders from further attacks (Northouse, 2006).Inevitably, adopting such tactics resulted in curtailing of certaincivil liberties.
Liberties referto the personal rights and freedoms of an individual enshrined withinthe national constitution. The government is under oath to safeguardsuch rights and thereby respect the dignity of its citizens. However,proper security could not be guaranteed without revoking individualliberties. The manner of the attack on American soil highlighted theneed to take stricter measures to protect the country. The terroristattackers professed loyalty to the Al Qaeda group, an extremistnetwork of Muslim combatants. A select group of Arab fighters formedthe majority of this terrorist network (Posner & Vermeule, 2007).Therefore, it is expected that the central government would becomequite vigilant by adopting racial profiling.
In this regard,the government has taken extra caution in its dealings with Arabicand Islamic visitors. In particular, airports and governmentbuildings have been fitted with rigorous security checks andprocedures. Some search techniques have been labeled as invasivesince they violate basic human decency. Arabs and Muslims have beenearmarked for special attention by security personnel. Isolating sucha particular group of persons is based on the rationale that most, ifnot all, of the terrorist attackers bear similar classifications.This is because most terrorists have Middle Eastern backgrounds anduse religion as justification for their deplorable actions. Theenormity of terrorism is a key factor that leads to thediscrimination of Arab Americans and Muslims (Leone & Anrig,2007). Granted, ensuring security requires an extremely high level ofprofessionalism and objectivity. Therefore, some tough decisions needto be made regarding the extent of liberties permitted by thegovernment.
The Patriot Actwas adopted in the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 attacks to shoreup gaps in surveillance and gathering of intelligence. Defectivecounterterrorism operations needed to be amended so as to providebetter protection to Americans. Department of Homeland Security wasformed to oversee border enforcement and immigration procedures. TheNational Security Agency was given the mandate to collect and storephone records. Section 215 of the Patriot Act allowed seizures andsearches without prior hearing. Moreover, the government was grantedunlimited access to any and all personal records without probablecause. The persons or bodies contacted to remit such information werebarred from making any disclosures. The Patriot Act also madeprovisions for detaining any person to whom allegations of terroristconnections had been leveled (Atkin, 2013). In this regard,immigrants and other persons of interest could be incarcerated for anindefinite period, even without probable cause.
The Patriot Actsought to ensure security at the expense of fundamental civilliberties. In particular, the Fourth and Fifth Amendments weretrampled upon by this broad Act. For example, soon after the 9/11bombing, 3000 Arab Americans and Muslims were detained for severalmonths although none was publicly charged with terrorism. TheNational Security Entry-Exit Registration System (NSEERS) requiredall male foreigners over 15 years to submit themselves toregistration, fingerprinting and photographing. Subsequentinterrogation of these foreigners led to an excess of 13,000undergoing deportation (Atkin, 2013). In fact, none of the registerednationals faced official charges of terrorism.
The proliferationof the Internet has changed the dynamics of terrorism. The nature ofthe threat had gradually shifted from past trends. Social media hasemerged as a deadly catalyst for terror. Facebook and Twitterplatforms have become prime sites for establishing contact,recruitment, and spreading information. Moreover, small groups ofterrorists have been radicalized over the Internet. Lone wolvesinside the country have also adopted extremist views (Northouse,2006). This highlights the need for transformation in gathering ofintelligence.
Notwithstandingpast challenges and failures, it is indeed possible to achieve bothliberty and security. The key lies in adopting policies that pursueboth objectives. The Patriot Act needs various amendments to make itfoolproof against defilements of fundamental freedoms. At the sametime, electronic surveillance needs to be maintained due to itseffectiveness in halting further terrorist attacks and thereby savinginnocent lives. Programs aimed at gathering intelligence should befine-tuned in a manner that safeguards civil liberties. The PatriotAct also prevented surveillance agencies from tracking terroristimmigrants on US soil (Atkin, 2013). Necessary amendments on thisaspect would provide more security by allowing continued tracking.Adopting the latter amendment would also guarantee liberty since thelegal authority would have to sign off on such surveillance.
Attaining bothliberty and security would also require phone data to be stored byprivate ––companies. In this regard, a court order would beneeded to sanction any submission of information upon request by thegovernment. An independent committee would need to examine thepropriety of such requests under law. Applications deemed unnecessarywould be challenged by capable attorneys in higher courts (Posner &Vermeule, 2007). Engendering greater transparency in the collectionand storage of intelligence would not only enhance security, but alsosafeguard civil liberties.
As discussed, the9/11 terrorist attacks instigated a drastic change in US governmentpolicy and procedures. Unfortunately, certain measures infringed onthe civil rights of Arab Americans and Muslims. The Patriot Act wasprimarily discriminatory in its statutes (Leone & Anrig, 2007).Nevertheless, protection of civil liberties is a hallmark of Americansociety. Therefore, it is vital to adopt policies that maximize bothliberty and security for the sake of American citizens.
Atkin, M. L. (2013). Balancing liberty and security: An ethical studyof U.S. foreign intelligence surveillance, 2001-2009. Lanham,Maryland: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers.
Leone, R. C., & Anrig, G. (2007). Liberty under attack:Reclaiming our freedoms in an age of terror. New York, NY: PublicAffairs.
Northouse, C. (2006). Protecting what matters: Technology, security,and liberty since 9/11. Washington, D.C.: Brookings InstitutionPress.
Posner, E. A., & Vermeule, A. (2007). Terror in the balance:Security, liberty, and the courts. New York, NY: Oxford UniversityPress.